The Erie Express continues to find ways to win and they have put together their first ever 7-0 start in program history on their climb to the No. 3 spot in the Premier Amateur Football League power rankings this season.
“Our games have been hard fought,” Express owner Paul Pennington told Developmental Football USA. “We haven’t really steamrolled anybody, but we find a way to win. When it’s all said and done, that’s what matters. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be flashy, we just have to find a way to get it done and so far we’ve been able to do that.”
This Saturday will be their biggest test yet as they take on the PAFL’s No. 1 team and defending champions, the Western Pennsylvania Wildcatz.
“We’re going to have to play smart football,” Pennington said. “They are a very good football team. I think they’ve won 21 in a row. They beat us last year, 51-3, I think it was. We definitely have to control the football when we’re out there and force some turnovers. When the opportunity presents itself – and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, the opportunity to make the big play will present itself – we have to capitalize on it against these guys. They have playmakers in every aspect of the game and they’re the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason.”
In addition to capitalizing on opportunities, Erie plans to do what it’s done all season and not forget what has kept them unbeaten well into the second half of the season.
“One thing we have is confidence and our guys play well together and they believe in one another and I like our chances on Saturday,” Pennington said.
The Express have already matched their win total from one year ago – in five fewer games – and they certainly appear to be one of the teams to make a deep run come post-season.
“I think a lot of it can be accredited to our coaching staff,” Pennington said. “It’s a different offense and a different defense this year, different players as well. I think a lot can be credited to them, and that’s not to take anything away form who we had last year, but a lot of credit can be given to them.
“We’ve signed some marquee guys that have done a nice job for us. Quarterback Corey McWilliams has stepped in and done a great job. I think he’s gotten our Offensive Player of the Week four times now out of six actual games. He’s done a great job for us and the offensive line is slowly getting better every week. They’re making improvements. They had a good game last week, they started slow, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and they finished strong.”
Erie will need a near-flawless game from their hog mollies this week as they face a relentless from seven from the Wildcatz.
“I’d say the WPA Wildcatz have the best defensive line I’ve ever seen at this level of football,” Pennington said. “Our guys will have their hands full, but they are excited to play against the No. 1 team in the country and what better way, because to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
Running behind the improved offensive line is two-time PAFL rushing leader Allen Jones.
“He’s doing a nice job and he also contributes on defense,” Pennington said. “On special teams, he had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week and he also racked up a couple of tackles and a sack. That’s the key and that’s going to be the key for us in this game is guys being able to play multiple positions for us when we need them two.”
Now in their seventh season, the Express has consistently put a great defense on the field year in and year out and this year’s unit has certainly done their part in carrying on that tradition.
“Our defense has always carried us and our defense right now is playing phenomenal,” Pennington said. “Ricky Barnes had four interceptions last week. Him and Derrell Fincher are doing a great job in the secondary.
“We’ve been without our free safety since the cobras game. He’s got a broken wrist, but he’s going to try for this week, we don’t know for sure, it’s still a game day decision. It’s still kind of tender, so he may or may not be out there, we don’t know yet.”
The linebacker core continues to be a force for Erie, led by Mike McKinnon and Tony D’Albora, who leads the team in tackles.
On the defensive line, Dajuan Smith and Chuck Wilson have made the biggest impact so far this season for the Express.
Based on their history and what’s on paper, the Wildcatz are certainly favored to win Saturday’s game, but as teams all around the country are reminded each weekend, games still have to be played and anything can happen.
“When you look at the two teams, I would say we don’t have the flash that they do,” Pennington said. “We’re more of a blue collar, lunch pail type team and they’re definitely flashier than us, with the big names, the former NFL guys and stuff. Those guys, they’re definitely the No. 1 team in the country and they’ve earned that spot and they only way you’re going to get to that top is to go through them. We’re definitely up to the challenge and excited about the opportunity.”
If you’re in the area, you want to miss this hard-hitting match-up between two of the premier, top-notch teams in the region.
“The thing about this league, the commissioner, Jermaine Campbell, has done a great job bringing in some of the best teams to the PAFL,” Pennington said. “They are No. 1 in the power rankings and we are No. 3, so you’ve got the No. 1 team in the PAFL vs the No. 3 team, power rankings wise.”